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Send in the clowns

“Self Portrait Masked with Wand” is one of many dark Wendell M. Upchurch paintings currently hanging at the gallery upstairs in the River Market in Barryville, NY.


September 4, 2013

I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone when it comes to a fear of clowns. From a very early age, they have made me nervous, skittish and (once in a while) downright freaked out. It still amazes me that clowns are often associated with glee, joy and happiness, since that is not my experience, but as usual, I am reminded that everyone has their own humble opinion. Scanning The River Reporter last week (yes, I read the paper) I came across a blurb about an art exhibit taking place at the River Market in Barryville, NY, titled “Through the Eyes of Wendell M. Upchurch,” which was being presented by the market, Green Door Magazine (www.greendoormag.com) and the UpFront Exhibition Space (“like” them on Facebook) of Port Jervis, NY. I was intrigued by the (IMHO) interesting partnering of the three entities and curious to discover why they would band together to celebrate this particular “prolific” artist, who I learned (from his widow, Marlene) was “obsessive” (creating hundreds of canvasses). His work ranged in subject matter from “landscapes, still-lifes, nudes, self-portraits” (scores of those) to “demons, freaks” and (oy!) the dreaded clowns, which pop up fairly often in what appear to be out-of-context apparitions, aside from other ghostly images appearing (for no discernible reason) out of the dark recesses of Upchurch’s (disturbed?) mind. Apparently, Upchurch spent some of his career entertaining terminally ill children decked out as a clown, which is admirable, but I’m guessing that he left the paintings at home.

I’m no art expert and can only rely on personal taste (which I hear there’s “no accounting for”), but I’d be lying if I said it was easy to fall asleep after viewing Wendell’s work. The soiree was hopping and included the preview of Green Door’s new issue which is (as usual) gorgeous, and packed with fabulous articles, featuring industry giant Martha Stewart, renaissance man (singer/songwriter/televised chef) Cooper Boone, local puppeteer Ramona Jan (www.ramonajan.wix.com/somestringsattached) and artist/musician/psychologist Marc Switko, among others. Both Jan and Switko are personal friends, which makes it all the more interesting that their work often disturbs me (some of her puppets are just plain creepy) and Switko’s drawings border on the macabre; so I might not have friends left by the end of this column, but I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.